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A Separation (2011)


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Based on this post and the subsequent comments regarding A Separation, it looks like a film we should make a priority in the coming months...
 

Asghar Farhadi's A Separation, a forthcoming Sony Classics release which won the Golden Bear at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival, is far and away the finest film I've seen at the 2011 Telluride Film Festival...and I didn't even see the first 40 minutes' worth. But soon after I slipped into the Chuck Jones theatre early yesterday afternoon I knew I was in the presence of something genuine, compassionate, complex and unflinching. This Iranian film is affecting and profound in a way that transcends nationality and culture and any other obstacle you can think of.

 

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I'm hoping to squeeze it in on Saturday. A friend saw it a few days ago:

"A Separation (7.4) - Almost never not riveting; teased being *another* visa drama only to transition into fierce, white-knuckling procedural"

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A Separation has been picked up by Sony Picture Classics for an end-of-the-year theatrical release, presumably in NY and/or LA to qualify for the Oscars. The rest of us should be able to see it in the spring or summer.

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D'Angelo gives it a 95:

Overwhelming in part, I think, because there really is no cinematic equivalent of Ibsen and Chekhov and O'Neill, and yet Farhadi has somehow conjured up a film worthy of such lofty comparisons without betraying the medium in the slightest. Those expecting to see a searing drama about the travails of a married couple will be as stunned as I was when the titular separation (which occurs in scene one) sets off a chain of apparently trivial events that gradually accumulate power, significance and complexity until they encompass nearly every aspect of not just Iranian society specifically but -- hate to drag out this hackneyed phrase, but it can't be helped -- the human condition in general. Just listing those aspects would require more time and energy than I've got at present, so let me highlight the one that had me furtively weeping throughout: I know of no other film so insightful about the ways that parents unwittingly manipulate and even emotionally terrorize their kids, always with the best of intentions and no recognition of the possible consequences. (To say that the final scene wrecked me would be an understatement.) And the Berlin jury did right in bestowing both of their acting prizes on the entire ensemble, which is pitch-perfect down to the smallest roles...

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: I've seen it. Give in to the temptation.

It`s a great film, to be sure, but I wonder how often one would want to watch it. Depends on the one, I guess.

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Michael Sicinski on A Separation.

A Separation is one of the year’s most accomplished films, and like so many films we might characterize as “accomplished,” it hasn’t garnered actual detractors. It merely fosters a coterie of skeptics. Several commentators felt that Farhadi’s film shouldn’t have won the Golden Bear over Béla Tarr’s more deserving The Turin Horse (or, to a lesser extent, Ulrich Köhler’s Sleeping Sickness) at this year’s Berlinale. There has been a related angle of more specific criticism, namely that the film is fundamentally anti-cinematic, that the Berlin jury opted to award Farhadi’s “screenplay-driven” work over purer filmic expression. That A Separation won two group acting prizes only cemented the perception that it’s mired in the Bergman camp of “filmed theatre,” and not the Bazin camp of refined cine-plastics. To further complicate matters, A Separation has been offered as Iran’s submission for the 2012 Academy Awards. This means, then, that while there is little question that A Separation is a bracing piece of psychological filmmaking, it is also a film that, whether intentionally or not, has coloured inside the lines of the regime of Ayatollah Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad.

While Farhadi is certainly no Majid Majidi, neither is he a dissident on the order of Panahi, Rasoulof, or the now-in-exile Makhmalbaf family. This is not to say that it is incumbent upon Farhadi to make films like a dissident. However, we have to consider this “problem” if we’re going to at least partly answer the lingering skepticism surrounding A Separation.

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Ashamed to say I still haven't seen this.

David Thomson has:

In a complete world of film-going, we should no longer tolerate the label “foreign film,” especially since it seems likely that a film from France in which the French language remains tactfully silent is going to stroll away with Best Picture. The Artist is a pleasant soufflé, over which older Academy voters can wax nostalgic. But A Separation is what the cinema was invented for.

EDIT: More from Thomson's review:

With the best will in the world, George Clooney cannot discard his aura of stardom, yet the actors in the Iranian film seem caught in their characters’ traps. That point about affluence is worth dwelling on. In 2011, not many American films dealt with money and its shortage in lifelike ways. It hurts The Descendants, I think, that its people are so well-heeled. Yet the common experience of the nation is the desperate effort to stretch money. A Separation is full of that and it works on the assumption that the means of life are vital to the way it is lived. It is a great film, the best from last year, and a model of how films can be made.

As an aside, "The common experience of the nation is the desperate effort to stretch money" is why I loved, rather than merely liked, Win Win, whose main character "stretches" money by basically stealing it, then is forced to come clean. It's probably "small ball" morally alongside what happens in A Separation, but the "desperate effort" part of it really spoke to me.

Sorry for the digression.

Edited by Christian

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Becky and I finally got a chance to see this on Saturday, and the feeling I have now is that "Wow, how in the world do I talk about this?" kind of feeling. I alluded to this somewhat when I tweeted about it over the weekend--I left the theater feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, but in a good way, as most of what I saw in 2011 never challenged me to keep up or to stay focused like this did.

As much as I enjoyed it, though, I don't want to say much about it (or write about it) until I've seen it again, the reason being that I had to work so hard to keep up with the story that I didn't have time to appreciate it. A fast-paced narrative has its joys, but I don't like it when the story feels too much like a blur.

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As much as I enjoyed it, though, I don't want to say much about it (or write about it) until I've seen it again...

I broke my own promise and wrote a little something for my blog: http://adventures-in...ion-review.html

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Ashamed to say I still haven't seen this.

David Thomson has:

In a complete world of film-going, we should no longer tolerate the label “foreign film,” especially since it seems likely that a film from France in which the French language remains tactfully silent is going to stroll away with Best Picture. The Artist is a pleasant soufflé, over which older Academy voters can wax nostalgic. But A Separation is what the cinema was invented for.

EDIT: More from Thomson's review:

With the best will in the world, George Clooney cannot discard his aura of stardom, yet the actors in the Iranian film seem caught in their characters’ traps. That point about affluence is worth dwelling on. In 2011, not many American films dealt with money and its shortage in lifelike ways. It hurts The Descendants, I think, that its people are so well-heeled. Yet the common experience of the nation is the desperate effort to stretch money. A Separation is full of that and it works on the assumption that the means of life are vital to the way it is lived. It is a great film, the best from last year, and a model of how films can be made.

As an aside, "The common experience of the nation is the desperate effort to stretch money" is why I loved, rather than merely liked, Win Win, whose main character "stretches" money by basically stealing it, then is forced to come clean. It's probably "small ball" morally alongside what happens in A Separation, but the "desperate effort" part of it really spoke to me.

Sorry for the digression.

Christian, for what it's worth, Farhadi, told the audience I was in at Toronto that the film was "as much about class warfare" as it was about familial conflicts or religious differences.

I had asked him to convert the settlement amount to Euros or Dollars and/or discuss how much it was in comparison to gross family income and he (and the Iranians in the audience) just kind of laughed--like the Western/literal nature of the question didn't quite capture the essence of the gulf between the have lesses and and the have nothings. I haven't rechecked my notes but I thought he said like ten thousand euros but the more important point was that it was more money than they would have any reasonable hope of making over their entire lives.

Actually I think the comparison to Win-Win is apt in that what is significant is not the exact dollar amount but what it signifies to either party (survival/necessity vs. higher standard of life) and how necessity (or the belief that it is necessity) can be used to justify (to yourself) doing something you know is wrong.

Edited by kenmorefield

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So, six months after I missed it at TIFF, A Separation finally opens in Knoxville today.

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I thought it was a terrific film. As a procedural, the lack of the kind of a formal courtroom settting one would find in an American-style legal drama really puts the focus on the raw emotions between everyone involved, and ratchets up the intensity of the conflicts, making the story incredibly gripping to watch.

Edited by Crow

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A few things that ran through my mind as the credits rolled:

1) And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it's God's grace... or forget about it.

2) If there's any movie character whose job I wouldn't want to have, well... the judge in this film nears the top of the list.

3) This film leaves me feeling the same way Margaret did. Everybody's screwed up beyond hope... unless... (See Point 1.)

4) Well, shoot... what do I do with my 2011 Top Five now?!

5)

So... what did happen to the money?

Edited by Overstreet

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Overstreet wrote:

: 3) This film leaves me feeling the same way Margaret did.

Fascinating.

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Whoa.

That's... that's kind of amazing.

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what did happen to the money?

The wife gave it to the piano movers.

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OF COURSE. Wow. An obvious connection that I didn't make. (And this movie asks you to make so many of them, at high speed.)

Thank you. I will sleep better tonight.

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3) This film leaves me feeling the same way Margaret did. Everybody's screwed up beyond hope... unless... (See Point 1.)

And yet! Everyone is so sympathetic, so likable, so understandable, so real. I'm not sure there's one character in the film I didn't utterly relate to and identify with. Everyone's decisions and actions are completely understandable within their own framework, their own point of view—and everyone's point of view makes complete sense in its own terms. I can't think of the last film for which I cared so much about so many characters so conflicted in their relationships with one another.

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3) This film leaves me feeling the same way Margaret did. Everybody's screwed up beyond hope... unless... (See Point 1.)

And yet! Everyone is so sympathetic, so likable, so understandable, so real. I'm not sure there's one character in the film I didn't utterly relate to and identify with. Everyone's decisions and actions are completely understandable within their own framework, their own point of view—and everyone's point of view makes complete sense in its own terms. I can't think of the last film for which I cared so much about so many characters so conflicted in their relationships with one another.

Yes! As I tweeted as soon as I got home, everybody is guilty, admirable, wrathful, and full of love [for somebody at least] all at once.

Edited by Overstreet

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3) This film leaves me feeling the same way Margaret did. Everybody's screwed up beyond hope... unless... (See Point 1.)

And yet! Everyone is so sympathetic, so likable, so understandable, so real. I'm not sure there's one character in the film I didn't utterly relate to and identify with. Everyone's decisions and actions are completely understandable within their own framework, their own point of view—and everyone's point of view makes complete sense in its own terms. I can't think of the last film for which I cared so much about so many characters so conflicted in their relationships with one another.

That's exactly why A SEPARATION is not only a great film, but a great film whose greatness is apparent (in principle) to everyone and has been hailed as such across the board.

It won the Berlin Film Festival over Bela Tarr (European cineastes); it was submitted to the Academy by Iranian officialdom; it bowled over that very Academy of Boho Heathens (a Foreign Film victory plus the superfluous Screenplay nod); it almost upset Malick to win the Skandies and DID set a record in winning the Script category; Greydanus and I both named it the Best Film of the Year Not Centering on Martyred Monks; it made more than $1 million in a single weekend and is actually EXPANDING its theater numbers after hitting "Level 2" markets and several weeks in NY/LA.

All by way of saying ... the very fact Steve cites is why there was no movie in 2011 whose virtues were as evident and accessible and appreciated by everyone (even the one film I thought was "better") as A SEPARATION.

Edited by vjmorton

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